chevron-down Created with Sketch Beta.
December 31, 2019 Practice Points

How to Develop Your Brand

The importance of first impressions in the modern workplace.

By Taylor Anderson

As technology advances and more connections are made via the internet, the personal interactions that people have are exponentially more important than they used to be. Therefore, it is an essential element of a successful career to have a clear understanding of your personal brand.

In a recent article entitled “Build Your Personal Brand in 30 Seconds,” author Mary Chung poses a question to her audience. She asks, “What if you only had 30 seconds to make a personal impression that impacted your entire professional life, including your career advancement, your compensation, and what your superiors thought about your personality and your career objectives?” This question is not far from the reality of the modern workplace. Studies show that it can take as little as 30 seconds for someone to make a lasting first impression. Therefore, Chung argues, it is essential that you take steps to make sure the impression is a positive one, especially in a corporate work environment.

Chung identifies three key elements that are factored into a first impression: (1) appearance, (2) gravitas, and (3) connection. It is important to note that Chung does not mean appearance in the traditional sense. Rather, appearance in the workplace goes beyond aesthetics. A person must create a clean, polished look that is safe for all interactions that might be had in a day. A polished appearance is critical because if someone does not think you look professional, it is less likely that they will be receptive to the information you are delivering, no matter how well presented.

These factors apply to every workplace interaction, big and small. Two very different experiences had by Nicole Sherrod, managing director of active trading at TD Ameritrade, illustrate this point. In the article, Sherrod describes a time when she was a young professional and made a negative first impression. Upon running into a senior executive in the office kitchen, the executive asked about her weekend. In response, Sherrod gushed about how she had just gotten engaged and then delved into the details of the proposal. Instantly, the executive wrote Sherrod off as someone who cared more about her personal life than her career. This interaction changed the course of how senior management viewed Sherrod and limited the opportunities she received.

By contrast, Sherrod details an important moment later in her career when, by taking a risk, she made a positive first impression that helped advance her career. Sherrod was working on Wall Street and presenting at a meeting where she knew she would be the only woman in the room. Upon entering, she began singing the popular song, “It’s Raining Men.” To her surprise, the joke broke the ice and made her seem more accessible to the men. Perhaps more importantly, Sherrod felt that the group was more receptive to her presentation because she had conveyed her authenticity and confidence. Thus, Sherrod echoes Chung’s belief in the importance of being consistently authentic when forming a personal brand.

Finally, Chung discusses the importance of taking action after a meeting. The right action can help maintain a positive first impression or enhance an already good first impression. For example, sending a thank you card with contact information can turn a forgettable encounter into a memorable one and create a resource for the future.

Sherrod’s stories—and the other stories shared by the women featured in Chung’s article—provide sound guidance for women in the workplace of how to create your own personal brand and further convey that brand “at first sight.” While creating a personal brand is important for everyone, it is especially important for women in corporate or male-dominated work environments. When women have to work harder than their male counterparts to earn respect in the workplace, a great first impression secured by a strong personal brand can be a valuable tool to level the playing field.

For more help on creating or building a personal brand, this article details a step-by-step approach.  

Taylor Anderson is a law clerk at Bressler, Amery & Ross in New York, New York.

Copyright © 2019, American Bar Association. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or downloaded or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association. The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the American Bar Association, the Section of Litigation, this committee, or the employer(s) of the author(s).